48 hours in Jerusalem
Every step you take in this holy city reveals an aspect of its tangled history
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Jerusalem is 50km south-east of Tel Aviv airport. Sheruts (shared taxis) shuttle to Jerusalem for 58 Israeli shekels (NIS58, about £10). Run by Nesher (00 972 2625 7227; neshertours.co.il), they take about an hour. Private taxis are about NIS300 (£50). The more scenic train ride (NIS22/ £3.70) threads through the hills to Jerusalem Malha station (2) – take a train to Tel Aviv HaHagana station and change (rail.co.il). It takes two and a quarter hours.
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At sunset, head up to the summit of the Mount of Olives, to the west-facing viewpoint (20) by the Seven Arches Hotel, to watch the sun sinking behind the holy city.
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By nightfall the Old City has emptied: culinary excellence lies elsewhere. Tucked away in West Jerusalem's old train station compound, HaChatzer, 7 Bethlehem Road (00 972 2671 9922), offers delicious Israeli-Mediterranean cooking in intimate bistro-style surroundings. Middle Eastern influences show in the signature dish – an artfully presented mezze platter with Moroccan bread (NIS60/£10).
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Get up early to visit the most beautiful Islamic building in the world, the Dome of the Rock. Non-Muslims may enter only via the Magharba Gate (Sun-Thu 7.30-10.30am and 1.30-2.30pm; noblesanctuary.com), which leads onto the Haram Al Sharif. This paved plaza dotted with monuments, shrines and fountains was formerly the site of the Jewish Temple of Solomon (destroyed in 586BC) and Second Temple (destroyed in AD70). At its centre the golden dome, 20 metres in diameter, seemingly floats above an octagonal enclosure clad in dazzling green and blue Iznik tiles. This is not a mosque, but a shrine built in AD691 over the rock on which Abraham intended to sacrifice his son (Isaac in Genesis; presumed to be Ishmael in the Quran) and from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. Across the plaza, Al Aqsa Mosque was rebuilt in the 11th century and can hold 5,000 worshippers. Its lofty interior is supported by 45 columns and includes an exquisite pulpit of carved wood. This was installed in 2007 as a replica of Saladin's original, built in 1187 but destroyed by an arsonist in 1969.
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Mahane Yehuda is West Jerusalem's souk (shuk in Hebrew), a madhouse of stalls selling everything from peanuts to persimmons. Hunt the alleyways for Ima, 189 Agrippas Street (00 972 2624 6860; imarestaurant.com), a stone-vaulted den serving Kurdish home cooking. Try the signature kubbeh soup – meat dumplings in a red beet broth (NIS35/£6).
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Buy a tram ticket (price NIS6.40/£1) from a street-side kiosk. Jump on a tram – there's only one line, running from Damascus Gate and along Jaffa Road. A short walk from the Mount Herzl stop at the western terminus, amid forested hills on the city's outskirts, lies Israel's Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem (yadvashem.org) – sobering, moving, disturbing but unmissable. It opens Sun-Wed 9am-5pm, Thurs 9am-8pm, Fri 9am-2pm, free.
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Museum on the Seam is a unique museum in Israel, displaying contemporary art that deals with different aspects of the socio-political reality. Through the works of artists from Israel and abroad who respond to the tension between and within groups, the Museum invites visitors to examine the degree of influence of the social environment on the individual, and vice versa. Between the local and the universal, the pluralistic and extreme ideologies, the Museum calls for listening and discussion, for accepting 'the other' who is different from us, and for respecting our fellow human beings and their liberty.
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Ever tried to think of what it would be like to stand “just off the center of the world” and see ALL of Jerusalem in a glance? There is one such place – on the roof-top of the junction between David Street (the market) and Chabbad (Habbad) Street. How to get there: You can come down Chabbad Street from the Jewish Quarter and at the corner of Chabbad Street and St. Mark’s Street (just before you reach David Street) you will see on your right a metal staircase leading up to the roof. If you come down David Street (from the Jaffa Gate) you make a right into Chabbad Street, at the end of the first set of steps the metal staircase will be on your left. Climb up the stairs until you reach the rooftop and continue straight ahead (walking north) for 50 meters until you see a slightly elevated roof-top with 2+3 steps to get to the top and a tall fence to the north of that rooftop. That is your destination. Be careful on rainy days – it is very slippery. You are now standing “just off the center of the world”.
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